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Patrice Barbedette’s European Vocation

May 30, 2003
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Staffing Management
If you’re an employee anywhere in Europe, Patrice Barbedette wants to beyour savior. The 31-year-old Frenchman cares about whether or not employees liketheir boss, their dreams for the future, and how they feel about sharing acubicle. He has created a company that aims to put that information--oftenconsidered impossible to quantify--to use.

    Barbedette is the founder of and driving force behind little-known,European-based Jobpartners, one of several companies competing in an arena whereno one can even agree on a name, though "talent relationship management"often wins out. Young entrepreneurs aren’t exactly unusual, but Barbedette ismore than that, a forward thinker who dreamed up a talent relationshipmanagement company when the industry was barely in existence.

    His ideas have earned the financial backing of Cisco, known for itsprogressive workplace-management philosophy. Jobpartners’ software enablesworkforce-management professionals to follow an employee from the time he fillsout an application to the time he leaves the company.

    The technology also allows clients to maintain a "living profile" of anemployee’s skills, experiences, and career aspirations and can match her toappropriate internal job opportunities. Information about employees gleaned fromsurveys, assessments, and appraisals is processed, assessed, and distributed sothat managers have immediate access to it. And the software can also be used todesign a personal development plan for those destined for executive management,keeping track of their movements up the career ladder.

"It seemed obvious"
    People-relationship management--the term favored byBarbedette--occurred tohim six years ago, when he was a 25-year-old software engineer for SAS inGermany, putting together CRM solutions for banks and other businesses withlarge customer bases. "It seemed obvious to me that you could take some of thebest practices in CRM and use them to manage the relationship between anemployee and a company," says Barbedette, speaking heavily accented English.

    A year later he joined forces with friends Simon Lynch and Gulian Qulkarni.They spent two years reading books on sociology and workplace psychology andinterviewing VPs and directors of human resources throughout Europe. "Welearned that employees see themselves providing skills for a certain period oftime, for certain projects, and then if there’s something more interesting orbetter-paying in another place, they go."

    In 1998 and 1999, when Barbedette and his partners were laying the groundworkfor their company, human resources was largely transaction-oriented and hadlittle to do with the individual. Barbedette’s idea was to "crossqualitative information with quantitative information to get a global view ofemployees, to know about their skills, motivation, performance, and what theywant to do in the future."

    Although he was on the cusp of it, Barbedette wasn’t the only one thinkingthis way. Companies that had been offering ASP-based systems automatingworkforce transactions--like Siebel and PeopleSoft--had begun branching out,starting with recruiting modules. Talent-relationship management was a logicalnext step.

    A few years ago, many leading global companies began looking for systems thatcould track applicants beyond the recruiting process, throughout their lifecycle as employees, says Jane Paradiso, national practice leader, workforceplanning, Watson Wyatt Worldwide in Washington, D.C. "Companies like BrassRing,Peopleclick, PeopleCapital, and Jobpartners are doing this now," she says.Mike Jurs, spokesman for Massachusetts-based BrassRing, says that his companywas first in the TRM space, having launched in 1997. BrassRing now has largeinternational clients such as Sears, Unisys, and GE.

    Michael Hannum, founder and CEO of PeopleCapital, a San Francisco Bay-areabusiness that bills itself as a "human capital management" company, says thecurrent landscape presents tremendous opportunities for talent relationshipmanagement firms because "what was considered strategic 10 years ago istransactional now, and much of it is being outsourced." Experts say strategicmanagement of people is the only place for human resources to go.

Dusting off appraisals
    Being strategic requires data, and one of Barbedette’s biggest gripes withhuman resources is the way it wastes information. Employee data--if it’scollected at all--isn’t acted on, he says.

    "I wanted to make sure an appraisal is never to be stuck in a desk drawersomewhere getting dusty. What good is the information if you never use it? Myvision--when I thought about the database of information we would have onemployees--was of a ball in a soccer game. The ball can’t stay in one place;it has to keep moving down the field so it produces something in the end," hesays. "We take input from employees and managers, analyze the information, andgive managers the results so they can take action."

    The crucial challenges of the market today, says Barbedette, are to keeptrack of strong performers, manage high-potential people, and handle successionplanning. "I think these issues have been addressed by many companies," hesays, "but not with the right tools. Very often it is done in a handcraftedway, each company doing their own thing, but they lack a consistent, totalsolution."

Barbedette felt that the best way to address those challenges was to examineaspects of an employee’s relationship with work. "We wanted to find a way tolearn and quantify how employees feel about their work environment, theirmanagers, their opportunities to develop personally and professionally," hesays.

    To that end, Jobpartners is, like its competitors, trying with its productsto assist in the development of key people--the "golden nuggets" Barbedettecalls them. "We have large clients with business divisions in many countrieswho want their best people to go through all those divisions, at the endbecoming part of executive management. So we help create a plan for personaldevelopment, then manage and organize the process," says Barbedette.

    Although Jobpartners boasts some big-name clients--like AOL France, Nike,and Xerox--it serves only European businesses. And that’s a challenge,considering the multitude of individual countries, laws, cultures, andlanguages. "Serving the U.S., its 50 states, they aren’t exactly the same,but they all speak the same language, have the same business mind-set," hesays. "In Europe, for example, the way Czechs do things is different from howwe do things in France--the structure of the market, the salary levels, thestandard of living. We’ve had these constraints from day one."

You want people to evolve
    Kevin Wheeler, president of Global Learning Resources, a human capital,recruiting, and workforce development consultancy in Fremont, California, saysEuropean companies differ from U.S. companies in that they take a more systemicview of the workplace than we do. "American companies tend to be much morereactionary, more knee-jerk and focused on today," he says.

    In a down economy, being reactionary is sometimes the best a company can do.After all, the technology designed for use in recruiting and managing talent isof course now being used to decide who is let go. Wheeler says that’s going toturn around, even if the economy stays sluggish. Between 1998 and 2008, 25million people--most of them baby boomers--are expected to leave theworkforce, which means the U.S. faces a looming talent shortage, especiallyamong executives and those with specialized skills.

    Barbedette is keenly aware of this. "You want your best people to evolveand stay with you," he says. "I think the only way to keep these people isto help them develop professionally."

    He admits that for the majority of companies, this kind of personalizedmanagement of employees hasn’t arrived yet. "My feeling is that most HRdepartments agree this is important and want to do it, but they haven’t gotthe tools or resources. How can you manage careers with five HR employeesserving an entire company?" he asks. "You can’t."

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